it’s no secret: i’ve been lamenting my sudden induction onto the mudeung elementary teacher’s volleyball league without ceasing. i’d complain to anyone who would listen about my woeful, brief history of embarrassing “athletic-related” incidents (most of which had happened either while rollerblading in middle school or in high school PE – the last time i ever touched a volleyball, mind you). let’s just say my coordination has always been lacking – i grew into this 6 foot frame much too fast to ever really figure out how to operate it. and on top of all that, i’m not competitive. when i see people all flustered and red-in-the-face i just figure, “man, you want the ball that badly? gosh, here you go. you can just have it.”
granted, while here in korea i’ve been willing to make a fool of myself on numerous occasions (singing in front of all the teachers at a staff meeting, dropping food on the table and on myself as i fumble with chopsticks, introducing myself in korean to an auditorium full of parents, and the list goes on), but for some reason, there is nothing worse for me than being on a team that is depending on you, and then you fail them.
tuesday night, before the “big day,” i laid in bed and morbidly wished for various accidents to befall me – a broken ankle, a sudden case of typhoid fever, a forest fire (things don’t always make the most sense at 1 AM…) but wednesday came without incident. around 2PM, after a full day of teaching, i changed into my workout gear and trudged off to the host school like a moody teenager facing unreasonable punishment.
here is the catch (insert the words “i told you so” here): i actually had a lot of fun. a lot. way more fun that i thought possible given the circumstances. first, i discovered upon arrival that i had been demoted to the b-team. hallelujah. i have never been so happy to be demoted in my life. this meant that i went from playing with hardcore, intense korean men who wore matching jerseys and were forever spiking the ball in my direction to playing with giggling, teensy korean women who ducked and covered as soon as a ball came within 10 feet of them. i rose from the worst player on the team to the player who actually hit a few balls over the net, from time to time.
the aspect of the game that i had feared the most: being on a team, actually ended up being the saving grace of the day. since i can’t communicate with most of the teachers at my school beyond a bow and a “hello” in the hallway, playing a sport is a great way to bond together. we were continually giving each other high-fives and pats on the shoulder. when our a-team won the whole tournament, the principal and VP were elated, and i was able to share in their enthusiasm. i actually knew what was going on, and for a few rare and precious minutes i was a part of the whole thing and not an outsider.
afterwards, all the teachers from various schools sat together in the cafeteria, eating fried chicken, grapes, and rice cakes and drinking beer and soda. i sat with a few teachers who were willing to try out their limited english on me, and we talked about universal topics like their various boyfriend troubles and cute american actors. i felt like the volleyball game had broken the ice for us, and now they felt more comfortable talking with me.
i’ve got about 6 weeks under my belt and i can say with confidence: korea has been good for me. it’s healthy to get out of predictable routine, to get out and see the world. this expeience has forced me out of my comfort zone so many times, and each time there is humility and growth and the reoccurring realization that the world is not, in fact, centered around me. being the minority, the foreigner, and the alien has renewed my understanding of the vast variety and beauty there is to be found in the world, and it reminds me of God’s heart for all nations. God is endlessly creative, and endlessly compassionate.